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In Madrid, banking on the art scene


La Casa Encendida

The fall of 2008 will be remembered for the meltdown of the international banking system, but it’s also been a great season for international art in Madrid, thanks to the free-spending ways of some of Spain’s largest banks.

This is not another morality tale about self-aggrandizing corporate honchos trying to put their names on museum wings before pulling the cord on their golden parachutes. Rather, it’s a case of old-fashioned social responsibility that has been codified into a legal obligation.

Because of a peculiarity of Spanish law (with origins that reach back nearly 500 years, when banks were lending societies associated with religious orders), modern Spanish savings banks — commonly known as cajas in Castilian and caixas in Catalan — are strictly nonprofit institutions. While they may make money, they have no shareholders and pay no dividends.

Profits, therefore, are meant to be devoted to the “public good” and the banks are at liberty to define this however they see fit.

Back in the day, it typically meant helping out farmers through lean times and troubled harvests. Today, however, through a vast array of obra social (public work) foundations, the savings banks support medical research and reforestation efforts, grant scholarships, finance historical preservation, sponsor art exhibitions or even establish their own cultural centers.

Read the rest here.

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